For years, Vipul Pareek, senior manager, project management, Siemens India, an industrial manufacturing company, would get uncomfortable when his colleagues from the finance department would dive into the details of equipment costing. To remedy his limited knowledge on the subject, Pareek enrolled in the company’s digital library, from where he would regularly borrow books on finance.
In a year or so, the Mumbai resident says he has been able to comprehend a lot of financial concepts and believes he now has a “decent amount of confidence" on the subject. “Reading up has improved my understanding of the subject. Earlier, whenever I got into costing of certain equipment, most times, I was not comfortable understanding the intricacies of costing. Now, I am so adept with it that I can understand the finance guy’s perspective on the cost of certain equipment. It helps me in taking good decisions," says Pareek. Besides finance, he also picks up books related to leadership, general management and self-improvement.
Around two years ago, Siemens India tied up with Kwench (a rewards and recognition platform for employees) to provide a digital library service. The virtual library services offered by Kwench provide free access to the company’s 23,000 employees spread across 50 offices across India. While employees from the metros have the advantage of getting books delivered on the same day, employees from other cities can expect a wait time of 24 hours depending on the courier service.
Siemens India has taken licences for 500 titles across genre, which includes fiction and non-fiction including comics. The employee is entitled to take only one book at a time. E-books and audio books are other options that employees can opt for. For the physical copy, the employee orders the book online, which gets delivered to his/her desk. To return, the person has to raise the request in the app and it will be couriered. “It’s a very simple process and people have access to the best of books," says S. Ramesh Shankar, executive vice president and head of human resources, South Asia, Siemens.
Siemens India used to have a physical library at some of its offices but consciously opted for the digital counterpart in order to streamline the system. The physical libraries were located in the Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru offices but the collections were tilted towards technology books and that was a problem. Also, it was inconvenient to physically fetch and return books. All this resulted in low utilization of the physical library.
For Amit Kambhoj, who is a manager with the supply chain management department, the convenience of having the book delivered to his desk has resulted in borrowing books regularly. “At times, I have returned the book in the morning, ordered a book immediately and received the new book the same evening," says Kambhoj, who has borrowed about 30 books since he started using the facility earlier this year. Kambhoj likes to read on finance, leadership and self-motivation, and reads during his hour-long travel to and from his home in Faridabad to Gurugram, where the Siemens India office is located.
The books he reads beyond those which are connected to his work, are also great conversation starters. “For instance, if I read an useful concept or advise in a personal finance book, I would share that knowledge with my colleagues," he says.
In the last two years since the partnership with Kwench, the company has observed phenomenal increase in the number of employees using the facility. “Our average age today is 32, which is going down every year. You have to be adaptable to that change and create a system by which the employees feel comfortable. The youngsters today, are more used to digital form of learning and this is one reason why we opted for digital library. The second reason is to ensure every employee of the company has access to the books," says Shankar.
Till now, 6,000 employees have made use of the virtual library.While books are available across genre, Shankar has noticed an increase in management and technical books. That’s not to say people don’t borrow other genres. “People do get story books for their children and sometimes, comics to relieve their stress. We don’t restrict usage of genres. Although we are yet to measure the impact, I would say the library has improved the learning agility of people," says Shankar.
This exposure to genres has resulted in better interdepartmental interaction in Pareek’s experience. “I also read on leadership, general management and self-improvement. Most times now, I am conscious when I am interacting at various forums and meetings. I have to control and act in a way that it gives the right message to the participants and creates the right perception," he says.
The Book Tales is a series which looks at how libraries are letting employees enjoy reading and researching in their workplaces.